Grand Hotel, Donmar Warehouse, London

Not a cabaret, old chum, but it's still worth making a reservation
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The Independent Culture

Grand Hotel was by no means fully booked when its revolving door first opened to London theatregoers in 1992. Tommy Tune's staging of this Wright/Forrest/Weston musical had wowed New York for three years but it was forced to check out of the West End after four months.

Grand Hotel was by no means fully booked when its revolving door first opened to London theatregoers in 1992. Tommy Tune's staging of this Wright/Forrest/Weston musical had wowed New York for three years but it was forced to check out of the West End after four months.

The dancing caused elation, but the tone and outlook were often more Broadway 1989 than Berlin 1928, the frantic, precarious period in which the piece is set. Besides, in the vastness of the Dominion Theatre, you felt you were gawping at the proceedings through binoculars, safe from the least breath of infection.

By contrast, Michael Grandage's splendid studio-sized version at the Donmar Warehouse hits you with a thrilling, complicitous immediacy. It's harder-edged right from the opening shock when, in an abrupt shift of lighting, the embittered chorus-like Colonel-Doctor injects himself with morphine. The production conjures up a frenetic, hedonistic world balanced on the brink of a crash. The movement and the dancing (choreographed by Adam Cooper) have a drive and an urgency that intensify the sense that for all the principal characters, time is running out fast.

The debonair, debt-ridden Baron (Julian Ovenden), has gangster-creditors on his tail. Caught while attempting to nick her diamond necklace, he falls in love with Mary Elizabeth Mastroianni's movingly washed-up prima ballerina. Meanwhile, Daniel Evans's endearing Jewish book-keeper Kringelein has decided to blow all his savings before he succumbs to terminal illness, and Flaemmchen (Helen Baker), the pregnant stenographer with the dreams of Hollywood, is coping with several pressing, costly deadlines.

It would be misleading to suggest Grand Hotel has the pouncing premonitory stealth of Cabaret but it depicts an earlier, less corrupt period. And it's only fair to say the score is uneven and the juxtaposition of death and new life (courtesy of front-desk man who learns he has a baby son in the final sequence) are too neat and corny to strum the heartstrings.

But when songs from the various plot strands swarm abrasively across each other and when the scullery workers bash their crates in a furious dance of envious protest, suggesting that they're ripe for the attentions of a dictator from the right or the left, you feel that what could have been bitty, glitzy soap opera has cohered into a vision of febrile foreboding. The Colonel-Doctor cannot tear himself away, forever informing reception that: "I'll stay one more day". This production of Grand Hotel suggests that his fascination is not wholly masochistic.

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